On 27 July 2015 at 16:07 | updated on 28 July 2015 at 09:35

Overabundance of titles: Is speed skating shooting itself in the foot?

Overabundance of titles: Is speed skating shooting itself in the foot?

The economist Arthur Laffer used to say: 'Too much tax kills tax' a maxim widely used and altered every day by many of our contemporaries... Couldn't this slogan be applied to speed skating: 'Too many titles kill titles'? Analysis...



Marathon du championnat d'Europe de roller course 2015With 210 medals (which makes 70 titles) distributed on 12 different race formats at the European Championships of Speed Skating (108 on track and 102 on road, junior and senior categories altogether), aren't we shooting ourselves in the foot, concerning the media and the olympic bodies?

OLS presents an uncompromising reasoning based on the example of the 2015 European Championships that have just ended in Wörgl, Austria. Please note that our aim is not to depreciate the performances of the athletes but to put into perspective the number of medals and the interests of our sport.

How many titles for how many athletes?

A national or international title only makes sense if it is rare, just like collector coins or daily consumer goods. It is the reason why it is coveted! It is the law of supply and demand that determines the value of goods. It is the same for a title, you want it because you are the only one to have it, because it shows you are better than the rest. If each and everyone has a title, yours loses of its value.

Let's get back to the 2015 European Championships of Speed Skating:

210 medals distributed for... 248 registered athletes... That is to say nearly one medal per skater!

This number is so explicit that we could almost stop our reasoning here: Nearly one medal per skater. Of course, in reality, things don't go that way and not everyone goes back home with a medal. In reality, only a small dozen countries, amongst the 20 in the running, fight for the medals. Worse: France and Italy alone collect 127 medals, i.e. 60% of the total number! And within a delegation, most of the time only a few 'stars' glean most of the medals of their country. It is the case for Austria with Vanessa Bittner, for example, or for Belgium with Bart Swings and Sandrine Tas (which are small delegations, indeed).

Simplification is necessary for more clarity

Track and field offers a certain unity of place... Whereas speed skating brings us first on track, then on road to skate almost identical competitions: 200 m instead of 300 m, 500 m (like on track), point races, elimination races, relays. As shown on the table below, we are not short on duplications. In most cases, the best skaters on track remain the best on road. It is confirmed by the rankings of the 2015 European Championships where the two-thirds of the medalled skaters on track are also medalled on road.

300 m200 m
500 m500 m
1000 m-
10 km point and elimination race-
15 km elimination race20 km elimination race
-10 km point race
3 km Relais5 km relays

Then, what is the point of using two different equipments (track/road) if you get the same skaters on the podiums? A radical simplification, in keeping only the very specific formats, would probably be welcome: One or two sprints, one middle-distance race (like 1000 m), two long-distance races (point and elimination), one relay and the marathon.

Seducing the media

Photographe au championnat d'Europe de roller course 2015In reducing the number of formats, you gain in clarity to the public and above all to the media: How credible is a sport that communicates in bragging about bringing back 75 medals (Italy) or 51 medals (France)?

Economical pragmatism

With less competitions, the international championships would be shorter and less expensive to organize. They would be easier to export in more modest countries and would be then more universal.
The travel costs would also be less expensive for the competing nations.

A too big frequency of international championships

Likewise, it would be preferable to organize the world championships every other year, alternating with the continental championships. This would enable countries that are less financially comfortable to send their teams at the other end of the world more easily at regular intervals. More nations represented would give more credit to speed skating as for the international bodies such as the IOC. Indeed, one of the eligibility criteria for the Olympic Games is the number of represented nations (assurance of universality of the practice).

Today, there is a kind of selection because of money: Only the richest federations can travel to the championships... and even then. With a constant budget, all the money consumed each year for national teams travels won't be injected into development. With championships every other year, supplementary budgets may be allocated to other missions. It would not be a luxury in those difficult times, where you have to choose which team to send to which championships.

At a national level, if you take the example of France, repercussions are significant: The high level status for athletes is partly conditioned by the number of nations represented at the world championships. If the number of countries involved is too small, the status may be suppressed, with all the consequences that it generates on the means allocated to the sport: Less state subsidies for the federation, less technical executives, less supported athletes, etc.

The future: Some reforms are undertaken, but will it be enough?

Course sur piste au championnat d'Europe de roller course 2015The upcoming 2017 Roller Games could be a turning point as for the frequency of organization of the worlds: Once every two years instead of every year... A measure of common sense given the increasing scarcity of budgets and the lack of visibility of our sports. The gathering of all the skating practices at the same place is a double-edged solution. It generates economies of scale since the championships can share resources... But they require more means from the organizing country, which goes in favor of the rich countries. For the 2015 World Championships of Speed Skating in Kaohsiung, Chinese Taipei, the FIRS wishes to agree with the recommendations of the Olympic bodies. The change is subtle, though: The 200 m disappears in favor of a more spectacular and telegenic 100 m (at the image of track and field), one circuit lap instead of the 500 m, which remains more or less the same.

At the FIRS level, the financial consequences are significant, since dividing by two the number of championships mechanically leads to twice less revenues linked to organization taxes collected by the international federation. One may imagine that this loss could be compensated with a rise of the organization tax.

The FIRS has the objective to enter the program of the 2024 Olympic Games... Maybe in Rome! Let's hope that speed skating will have the time to make the necessary mutations in its organization until then.

Useful links

2015 World Championships of Speed Skating in Kaohsiung

2015 European Championships of Speed Skating

Texte : TeamReL
Photos : Emmanuel et Sylvie Geoffroy
Released  on 27 July 2015 - Read 6578 times

Want to join? Email us!